Sometimes it can take a little while to get Section 8.
“We’ll do shows on the road sometimes where we see people standing there with their mouths open, not having any idea what to do while we’re playing,” observes Section 8’s drummer, Tim Parent. “But I think what happens is that a lot of those people wake up the next morning and while they’re laying there it suddenly hits them: ‘Whoa! That was pretty cool! I want to see that again!'”
Parent, guitarist Drew Janik, bassist Michael Watkajtys and vocalist Jann Kasey Dorr have been making perplexing music together since 1994, when the three instrumentalists invited Dorr to join their fledgling metal-plus ensemble after Dorr’s prior band had gone belly up. That invitation proved to be a smart one as the newly christened Section 8 quickly became one of the heaviest draws in the local hard music community (a status which they retain to this day) and have since gone on to release two of the best-selling independent local releases of the ’90s: Pain Is Truth (1995) and Nine Ways To Say I Love You (1997).
“It’s really amazing to me to see how well the new record is doing,” notes Parent when I meet him, Watkajtys and Janik at a too-too-very-very coffee shop(pe) in Loudonville, the location of which remained a mystery to Dorr — who spent the evening touring suburbia searching for us in vain. “I work at a record store in the day, so I’ll pull up Tupac or Notorious B.I.G. or whatever on the computer and the new record is, like, doubling them. We also reissued Pain Is Truth recently, this time with a barcode on it so we could register it with SoundScan — and it showed up on the charts in its first week as being tied with the new album, which really amazed all of us ’cause we figured the people who wanted it already had it.”
Where most hard music platters tend to rely on brute force to make their points, necessitating the infamous “Play It Very Loud” messages that appear on more metal discs than any headbanger would like to admit to, Nine Ways to Say I Love You offers a surprising level of technical sophistication and recording quality. No surprise, then, to learn that Section 8’s new disc was recorded at the very well-respected Sweetfish Studios in Argyle, which has lent Nine Ways an intangible aura of industry credibility to go along with its very tangible aura of sonic clarity.
“I was working at Sweetfish as an intern last year,” notes Watkajtys when asked how the group ended up in such fine digs. “And we were ready to do the new album, so I asked them if we could do it there and they said that was fine — then they gave us a really good deal. We did the thing very quickly, in like two weeks or so, but it was just great to have to nice studio and to have a guy like Tom Case [former soundman at Saratoga Winners, for head-banging cognoscenti who need to know] work with us, because I really think he had a big impact in how the album ended up sounding.”
Sonic polish aside, Nine Ways also sounds very different from most local music products because it’s filled with songs created by cross-pollination across the generally-recognized lines that separate genus from genus in the fiercely territorial hard music kingdom. The band’s willingness to explore unorthodox musical hybrids is subtly confirmed during discussions over their listening habits: while the usual dark-hearted hard music suspects (Black Sabbath, Cannibal Corpse and the like) come up in conversation, Section 8’s members also drop the names of an eclectic array of other touch-points including Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, Faith No More, My Dying Bride, Cream, Radiohead and local stalwarts Withstand.
“I think that maybe we’re just feeding people with a whole different flavor that they don’t get to taste all that often around here,” offers Janik in summary. “So once people have tasted it they just kinda find themselves liking it which, of course, makes ’em want to keep coming back — although we try not to over-exposure ourselves locally so people don’t get sick of that taste too quickly.
“And even though our music can be pretty alienating sometimes, I think it helps when people see us in concert and see that we’re willing to alienate everyone when we play, no matter what clique or scene they come from,” Janik continues. “Which keeps it fun for us, really, ’cause while we’re serious about what we do, we don’t take ourselves too seriously while we’re doing it — and I think people know that, even if we are pointing at them and laughing between songs.”
Section 8 shows certainly offer just about the widest variety of audience-member-pointing opportunities you’re ever likely to find in this town. “We get all sorts of people at our shows, and I like that,” agrees Dorr when I finally catch up with him by phone a couple of days after our aborted kaffee-klatsch. “When I see goth kids hanging out with hardcore kids hanging out with metal kids hanging out with Straightedge kids and all the other kinds of kids that you can put labels on, what I see is the intermingling of cultures that were separated because someone thought something was cooler than some other thing. And nothing’s cooler than any other thing at our shows. I mean, I’ve had people come up to me at shows, saying ‘Where’d all these people come from? I don’t know any of them.’ And I’m just like ‘Y’know what? Neither do I, but they came out here to have a good time and they’re gonna get it. It’s a simple as that: They’re gonna get it.”
And just what is that elusive it that they’re gonna get once the initial shock or euphoria passes? What’s the underlying message of the Section 8 experience that leads to all those morning-after epiphanies? “Well, I guess the grim, grey reality of it all to me is that we recognize that we’re all surrounded by violence and we’re all surrounded by confusion and we’re all surrounded by suffering,” offers Dorr matter-of-factly. “So we do what we do to get release from that reality and I think a lot of other people who are dealing with a lot of the same issues appreciate us doing that. Frankly, I’d rather see some 13-year old kid who’s having problems at home or getting beat up at school or God knows what else, I’d rather see him come to one of our shows and vent that stuff out with us instead of going out and hurting himself or hurting someone else or turning to drugs or whatever. So I’m not necessarily saying ‘Turn to us’ but I am saying ‘Turn to something like us’. There are a lot of good people out there in this scene and other scenes that can help — or at least understand — what you’re going through. And that’s really the bottom line.”
Got it. Finally.